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Smashed Like a Strawberry Box
August 1, 2013 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Seventy years ago today, in the midst of World War II, St. Louis citizens and dignitaries gathered at Lambert Airport to watch a VIP demonstration flight of the CG-4A glider, which had recently entered service. Aboard the glider were William Becker, the Mayor of St. Louis, several other high-ranking city officials, the founder and the vice-president of Robertson Aircraft (a St. Louis company producing the glider for the war effort), as well as two pilots. Immediately after being released by the tow aircraft, the right wing of the glider sheared off, sending the glider plummeting to the ground and killing all ten aboard.

The news article in the first link is fascinating not only because of the report of the crash, but because of the context in which it occurred: the evacuation of Berlin, the death of Chinese president Lin Sen, many stories of wartime life, and the Superman comic of the day. (And, on the front page of the paper that day, a story about a racially-charged riot in New York City).

The particular glider in the crash was found to have had a strut made of metal that was too thin to bear the load. Robertson Aircraft Corporation was one of several that constructed that type of glider nationwide (it had been designed by Waco Aircraft Company). The glider had already been used by the RAF, and at the time of the crash was in use in the invasion of Sicily. It would go on to play a significant role in the D-Day landings the following year.
posted by Chanther (26 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. Never heard about this. Can you imagine the effect on morale this must have had for subsequent glider crews/passengers in the war? I mean, I know they already knew gliders were dangerous, but the boys going up in them for Operation Market Garden may have had this in the back of their minds. For that matter, Walter Cronkite surely must have been aware of this history...
posted by darkstar at 11:21 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a helluva story. What possessed them to send dignitaries up on a test flight? It's also interesting that the fist theory mentioned was sabotage.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:38 AM on August 1, 2013


Also on the front page: "Yank kills eight Nazis in eight shots."
posted by Pendragon at 11:42 AM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It wasn't a test flight, just the first public demonstration of the craft. The article notes it had passed tests at the facility and a previous flight a few hours later with six folks on board.

My great-uncle had a job making glider wings at the outset of the war. Always a gentleman who firmly believed that when he was right, he would speak his mind, he was at work one day on a machine that essentially pressed the wooden materials together to form the wing or other part of the craft. The manager of the factor happen to be leading a tour of big wigs, company owners and possibly military too, when they came to his station. The manager told my great-uncle, only about eighteen or so at the time, to step aside so he could show the brass how the thing was done. Almost immediately, my great-uncle saw that the manager was doing it wrong and almost immediately, he straight forwardly told the manager he was doing it wrong. Needless to say, my great-uncle left for Baltimore the next day to find a new job at the docks with a pink slip most likely crumpled up and thrown over his shoulder somewhere.

Perhaps this poor glider had been assembled with a part from a similar demonstration.

I was perusing a paper from '44 or so, maybe '45 not too long ago, and came across an article halfway down the front page. My memory is weak to the specifics, but essentially it was an article about how around 22,000 men had died purely in training in the United States to go to war. It was a staggering number that shocked me, in part because it was something that no book or documentary I've previously seen or read had ever lingered on; how high the price in lives on the Homefront to send men off to their potential doom.
posted by Atreides at 11:46 AM on August 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


And Mary Worth is still on the same story line!
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:50 AM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I was about to point out "smashed like a strawberry box" when I noticed the FPP title. What an interesting phrase. It's neat how that kind of stuff changes over time.
posted by brundlefly at 11:59 AM on August 1, 2013


Chanther: "The news article in the first link is fascinating not only because of the report of the crash, but because of the context in which it occurred: the evacuation of Berlin, the death of Chinese president Lin Sen, many stories of wartime life, and the Superman comic of the day. (And, on the front page of the paper that day, a story about a racially-charged riot in New York City)."

I know you warned me by explaining it this way, but I have such a love/hate relationship with links like the first one. On one hand, I love everything about seeing the story in its originally reported context. On the other, send me to a 70 year old news paper, and I spend half an hour reading every little thing and have every intention of going back later. So far, my personal favorite is "Soldiers and WACS Nabbed During Boisterous Party."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:05 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The CG-4A could carry 13 troops and their equipment. Cargo loads could be a quarter ton truck (Jeep), a 75 mm howitzer, or a ¼ ton trailer, loaded through the upward-hinged nose section

A jeep in a glider! Wow.
posted by Big_B at 12:05 PM on August 1, 2013


MCMikeNamara: Oh god, yes. This has nothing whatever to do with the glider crash, but I can't resist it. From the ad on the front page:

"If you-like so many women between the ages of 38 and 52-suffer from hot flashes, weak, tired, nervous feelings, distress of “irregularities”, are blue at times-due to the functional middle age period peculiar to women- try Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound to relieve such symptoms."

Seems like there might have been an easier way to say it. If only we had a word to describe that particular... thing peculiar to women...

To justify my shameless derail, here's more detail on how these things could, in theory, be snatched off the ground and recovered by a C-47 in flight.
posted by Naberius at 12:18 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Say what you want about Google's recent sins, but digitizing stuff like this is pretty damn amazing. Aussie Recovering After His Brains Are Knocked Out!!
posted by Rhomboid at 12:24 PM on August 1, 2013


MCMikeNamara: You and me both. I thought I was going to have a productive morning, but hours later, having not fully understood a story on the front page of that paper, I find myself reading a long article on Mussolini's fall from power. I thought the least I could do is make an FPP to spread the love / misery around.

It's surprising that even though I've researched St. Louis during the war for a class I was teaching, I'd never heard about this crash until today, nor ever heard of Mayor Becker. It's amazing that something that would have been a major event for a city is very nearly forgotten even by those who live here.
posted by Chanther at 12:29 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"If you-like so many women between the ages of 38 and 52-suffer from hot flashes, weak, tired, nervous feelings, distress of “irregularities”, are blue at times-due to the functional middle age period peculiar to women- try Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound to relieve such symptoms."


We'll drink a drink a drink
To Lily the Pink the Pink the Pink
The savior of the human race.
She invented Medicinal Compound.
Most efficacious in every case.

Old Ebenezer, thought he was Julius Caesar
So they put him in a home
Where they gave him Medicinal Compound
Now he's Emperor of Rome!


Everybody!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:31 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


(lurker for years, made the leap to actual membership for this thread).

A couple years ago I was honored to attend the WWII Glider Pilots reunion in Lubbock, TX (home of the Silent Wings Museum ) with my dad, who was in the USAAF from 1942-1945 as a glider pilot. Having seen inside the cockpit and overall ricketiness of those gliders, I think my dad and his peers must have had balls of steel. The seats did not even have headrests, so when piloting a close line takeoff as described by Naberius' link, the pilot would literally have to put one hand behind his head for extra support to prevent whiplash.

My dad flew in the combat missions Operation Market Garden and Operation Varsity, during the latter of which he was wounded (gunshot after or during landing, he was not really sure) and subsequently received a Purple Heart medal. He turned 21 the next year.

He passed away 2 weeks ago today. RIP to a good man.
posted by AvailableSpace at 12:41 PM on August 1, 2013 [25 favorites]


The photo in the "aboard the glider" link is haunting.
posted by aught at 12:51 PM on August 1, 2013


The headline next to the glider crash story is about the infamous Ploisti raid, which the wikipedia article tells me was the worst single day loss in the history of the Air Force. So, not a good day to be in the air.
posted by vibrotronica at 12:55 PM on August 1, 2013


Welcome, AvailableSpace! That's a great story.
posted by emjaybee at 12:59 PM on August 1, 2013


Thewhiteskull no doubt intended to add the link.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:03 PM on August 1, 2013


A jeep in a glider! Wow.

There were experiments with giant gliders designed to carry tanks.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:04 PM on August 1, 2013


There were experiments with giant gliders designed to carry tanks.

Or even cut out the middleman
posted by IndigoJones at 1:08 PM on August 1, 2013


Chanther: "The particular glider in the crash was found to have had a strut made of metal that was too thin to bear the load. "

Sounds like it wasn't the strut itself but an attachment fitting that was too thin. Interestingly, the St. Louis Casket Company manufactured part of the glider.
posted by exogenous at 1:22 PM on August 1, 2013


That model glider was the one referenced in Saving Private Ryan, where the pilot relates how steel plates had been welded to the floor to protect a General (sitting in a jeep, no less). Unfortunately, the pilot hadn't been told about the plates, and had to deal with the overloaded glider on the fly (so to speak).

The scene from the film...
posted by 1367 at 1:25 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, on the previous page, the Nikko Inn will be 'closed for renovations.' Yeah, I bet.
posted by hexatron at 1:42 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


My bad. Nikko Inn was advertising lunches the next year.
posted by hexatron at 1:51 PM on August 1, 2013


Hey, look at that, Somoza, dictator of Nicaragua in the 1970s, is on Page 1. Next to that, a story about a riot in Harlem over cops shooting a black suspect. There's a lot of worthwhile stuff to read in those old papers.
posted by crapmatic at 2:44 PM on August 1, 2013


Thanks. This is why I've stuck with Metafilter over the years.
posted by rotifer at 7:41 PM on August 1, 2013


Note that they appear to be sitting on parachutes.
posted by rotifer at 7:43 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


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